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Crowds of Hagerstown-area residents turn out for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day

Martinsburg restaurant evacuated due to reported bomb threat

August 01, 2012|By LAUREN KIRKWOOD and MATTHEW UMSTEAD | lauren.kirkwood@herald-mail.com and matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com
  • Satisfied Chick-fil-A customers depart the restaurant Wednesday afternoon at the Wesel Boulevard location. There was an increase of business at the fast-food reataurant as people showed support of recent political comments made by the corporation's chief executive officer.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

Crowds of area residents turned out Wednesday for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day in Hagerstown, braving hectic traffic and lines of hungry customers to support the restaurant’s values and the business’ freedom to express its opinions.

In Martinsburg, W.Va., Chick-Fil-A was evacuated Wednesday afternoon after reportedly receiving a bomb threat that later was determined to be a hoax, the Martinsburg Police Department said.

The day of appreciation was suggested by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as a way to counteract boycotts sparked by company President Dan Cathy’s statement that he and Chick-fil-A are “guilty as charged” in opposition to gay marriage. The fast-food chain is known for its “biblically-based principles,” such as its policy of staying closed on Sundays.

“I came out to Chick-fil-A today just to support them, and I just think a lot of times, we don’t speak out when we feel like we should,” said Millie Toms of Hagerstown. “But this is our way of showing it. And I bet you they’ll do a month’s business here in one day.”

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Chick-fil-A employees in Hagerstown directed traffic as more and more customers pulled into the fast-food restaurant during Wednesday’s lunchtime rush. The line for food spilled out the door and wrapped around the restaurant, but many patrons said the wait was a cause for celebration, not frustration.

“It's just been wonderful. I had to sit through five stoplights,” Toms said. “Any other day, that would aggravate me, but today, I was smiling. I thought, ‘I don’t care.’ If this is getting people out and it’s making me wait, I’ll wait here a couple hours if I have to.”

Carol Mason of Big Pool said she hoped a lot of people would turn out in support of the company, and was glad they were not deterred by the wait.

Mason said she and her husband came to support “freedom of speech and freedom of opinion,” a cause several people waiting in line echoed.

“We believe that gays have rights, but the gentleman who owns this (Chick-fil-A) has rights, too,” said Lana Reynolds of Hagerstown.

Reynolds said the size of the crowd is proof that many people share the company’s values and are willing to express their beliefs.

“It does show that people have an opinion in the old way, God’s way,” she said.

“We’re supporting Christian businessmen and women,” said Lori Leckron of State Line, Pa. “What they believe, they should be able to do it. And it needs to be shown that we, as Christians, support our fellow believers.”

“This is the first time I’ve ever been,” said Wayne Lafferty of Smithsburg.

Lafferty said he had been working to get the referendum on Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot, and decided to come to the restaurant Wednesday to show his support.

Leckron said she had not expected so many people to participate.

“It’s good. It does show that people care,” she said.

Bomb threat reported

The bomb threat at the Martinsburg Chick-fil-A was reported at about 1 p.m.

The male who called in the bomb threat said a device had been placed inside the business at 1005 Foxcroft Ave., but police said no bomb or device was found. Police said the scene was cleared at 3:49 p.m.

Police said in a news release that they have traced the location of the call and are working to identify the person who placed the call.

Police said they have not released a motive for the bomb threat.

A K-9 “bomb dog” handled by the National Park Service, along with the Martinsburg Fire Department and West Virginia State Police, also responded to the restaurant, police said.

The reported threat happened while the restaurant was packed and vehicles were backed up in the drive-through lane, customers said.

“The managers came and said ... we have to evacuate, we’ll give you a bag for your food,” said Janice McCown of Martinsburg, who was dining with her friend, Roberta Hyde.

McCown believed customers were taking part in Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day to show their support for Cathy.

“(Cathy has) gotta right to have his opinion just like everybody else does,” McCown said. “This is just sad.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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